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The Little Book Of Music Anecdotes,
by Helen L. Kaufmann, 1948.

I gave this book report a separate page instead of adding it to my music book reports page because of the long index you'll find below. Check my music book reports page for a few other books about music.

"Little" is 3.25 x 5 inches (8.3 x 12.5 cm). There are 121 anecdotes, each given its own little chapter, in the 275 little pages. The value of the stories is that they are the sort of thing that generally aren't told in the music encyclopedias and reference books; they help us get to know the musicians and composers as people to some extent or another. I guess the stories are mostly true. Here are some of my favorites.

J. S. Bach took some complimentary words from the Margrave of Brandenburg as a commission, and whipped up the Brandenburg Concertos for him. Even though he was a patron of the arts and had his own orchestra, he never made use of Bach's gift. It wasn't until a hundred years after Bach's death that the Brandenburg Concertos were published and played.

There's the celebrated religious work called the Miserere by Allegri. The Pope did not allow it to be performed outside of the Sistine Chapel, and to copy it meant excommunication. But 14-year-old Mozart attended a performance, went home - and wrote it down from memory! This story is even corroborated by the 1936 Grove's Dictionary of Music and Musicians in the article on Allegri. A minor discrepancy is that Grove's has Mozart writing it down while the choir was singing. Still, I'm impressed.

On the other hand, an anecdote in Kaufmann's book about pianist De Pachmann gives an almost completely opposite impression from the entry in Grove's. Kaufmann shows him with an enormously swelled head, crying, "Gut, De Pachmann," aloud while performing. Grove's says he was "his own severest critic". He retired 8 years once from performance for hard study, and another time 2 years. This doesn't disprove the Kaufmann anecdote, of course.

There's a story about soprano Mary Garden's strapless evening gown:

An amorous old gentleman kept his eyes glued hopefully on Mary's white expanse of bosom. Finally he could bear it no longer. "What keeps your dress up, my dear?" he asked. "Only your age, sir," retorted Mary.

I don't quite get it, although I presume it's supposed to be slightly naughty. Still, I was quite proud of myself when I found the source of the anecdote in Rudolph Bing's autobiography, 5000 Nights At The Opera. At a performance of Carmen in Bing's second season at the Met (1951-52), Mary Garden came up to his box (page 180):

She came up to my box, an old lady in a remarkable strapless gown, and one of the even older men said to her, "What makes that dress stay up?" She said, "Your age, sir."

"Good catch, Donald, my man!" you say. But hold your horses. Kaufmann's book was copyrighted in 1948. And before you propose the simplest solution, that Bing's memory was off by a few years, consider that he arrived in the U.S. in 1949 to observe the Met's operation in preparation for taking over as manager in the 1950-51 season. If you figure Bing will just slap down any ol' story and pretend he was part of it, reading any handful of pages from his book will dispel you of that notion. It drips with names, places, dates, and times, and reproduced memos and letters - not a fuzzy memory in sight. Read the whole thing, by the way. It's great. It needs an index, too.

Still, anyone's memory will play tricks on him, and my best explanation is that when Mary visited Bing's box, she recounted the story to him, and as the years went by (his book is copyright 1972) his memory turned her story into an actual event in the box. That's a stretch, admittedly, but it seems more likely than the same incident - with almost identical quotes - occurring twice. Don't look at me.

UPDATE, Oct 2008: I've found the story again in Opera Anecdotes, by Ethan Mordden, page 174.

Chauncey Depew stares at Garden's decollete and says, "Tell me, Miss Garden, what's holding that dress up?"

Garden looks him spang in the eye and answers, "Your age and my discretion."

There's a story of conductor Leopold Stokowski dropping in to visit Igor Stravinski in Berlin in 1920. Stravinski had never heard of him, or his orchestra, or even Philadelphia, and didn't want to be bothered. Stokowski went away fuming and brought back a batch of records with him conducting. He passed them through the door and Stravinsky actually played them before finally deciding the guy was for real. This brings to mind another anecdote involving Stravinsky, a visitor, and a record. The visitor was a young, unknown violinist named Arnold Steinhardt - not yet of the Guarneri Quartet - seeking tips on playing Stravinski's violin concerto. Stravinsky must have mellowed by that time. Read that story on my music book reports page.

Stephen Foster's "Old Folks At Home" was originally published with a song-writing credit to Christy of the Christy Minstrels. The reason given here is that Foster didn't want to get a reputation as just a composer of "Ethiopian melodies". Coincidentally, I got to this anecdote in the book the day after seeing the "Old Folks At Home" sheet music on display at the "Piano 300" exhibit at the Smithsonian (Jul 4 2000.) There was Ed Christy's name, as big as life.

There's a good one about Paderewski's famous Minuet. Paderewski often visited a Dr. Chalubinski who was a "passionate devotee of the music of Mozart." Thus, Paderewski was obliged to play the 3 or 4 Mozart pieces in his repertoire again and again for Chalubinski. Paderewski got a bit bugged by this Mozart worship and whipped up a little minuet in that style. According to Kaufmann:

The next time he visited the Doctor, in response to the usual request for "a little Mozart, please," he played his own Minuet. The response was even better than he had anticipated.

"Marvelous, indescribable!" cried the host. "Tell me, Paderewski, tell me honestly, is there anyone now alive who could write such music?"

"Yes, Doctor, there is."

"There is? Who?"

"It is I."

"Impossible. I am surprised at your effrontery. How dare you say such a thing?"

"But I wrote the Minuet you have just been hearing."

Nobody likes to be duped, so it's not surprising this put a strain on their friendship. But things were patched up soon enough, and the Minuet became so widely played that you can even find two guitar transcriptions of it listed on my page of guitar music I've gotten from the Library of Congress.

Kaufmann says Tchaikovsky's B flat Minor Piano Concerto was well known to "lovers of popular music, thanks to the syncopated arrangement played by dance bands." Anybody with ears in 1948 remember that?

Bizet was crushed by the initial response to Carmen, and died before it became a triumph a few months later.

The book claims that Dvorak's "Goin' Home" melody was a spiritual tune gotten from "one of his favorite students, a young Negro boy." I believe all the authorities agree the tune is a Dvorak original, even though some people may still think it's an old spiritual.

The main point of the story of army man Marc Blitzstein's unique commission for a symphony on the Air Force was all the interruptions he experienced from 1943 to 1945. One was a six-week period in which "he coached a chorus of Negro G.I.'s. Under his leadership, they gave a magnificent concert, which was one of the high spots of the London musical season." It'd be fun to track down a contemporary review of that one.

The story of "How Guam Became Music Minded" in World War II is a funny one. Here's the background: "When in 1904, the Americans received Guam from the Spaniards, it was a sorry acquisition. The island was poor, devoid of educational and health facilities... Moreover, it was practically bankrupt of music. The natives knew only one tune, a sing-song chant of indeterminate origin. This they produced on every occasion, grave or gay. It made for a certain monotony." (Hee hee hee.)

Most of the rest of the book is given over to infighting, back-biting, insults and feuds between musicians. That's when they're not going deaf or dying young or thrown into deep depression by first-night flops. Criminy, even Waltz King the First (Johann Strauss) resented Junior's success. I'm exaggerating here for effect, but musicians sure can come across as a right miserable lot.

In case you ever find the book (remember, little - and red), here's an index I've put together for it. Let me know if you ever make use of it, ok?

 


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                               Index to 
               "The Little Book Of Music Anecdotes"
                       by Helen L. Kaufmann

Alda, Frances        248 
Allegri              43 
Arne, Dr. Thomas     7
Auber                116 

Bach, JS             10 28 30 98 
Balakireff           137 
Bartok               262 
Beethoven            53 56 58 60 62 66 68 102 135 154 166 171 176 201 250 
Benchley, Robert     108 
Berg, Alban          217 
Berlioz              65 70 92 131 
Bernstein, Leonard   274 
Betti, Adolfo        221 
Beyer                174 
Bizet                142 176 
Blitzstein, Marc     271
Borodin              137 140 
Boulanger, Nadia     268 
Brahms               31 166 168 221 
Breuning             56 62 
Bru"ckner            166 
Bu"low, Hans von     147 160 166 189 201 

Cartier              193 
Chaliapin            139 
Chalubinski, Dr.     187 
Charles II           3
Charpentier          248 
Chasins, Abram       186 
Chavez, Carlos       213 
Cherubini            70 72 
Chezy, Helmine von   107 
Chopin               92 104 
Christofori (singer) 44
Christy              150
Clementi             58 
Copland              267 
Couperin             193 194
Cui                  137 

Damrosch, Walter     268 
Debussy              189 262 267
Degeyter, Pierre     227
Delsart, Jules       110 
Devrient             99 
Diaghilev            208 
Dittersdorf          193
Downes, Olin         193 235 
Dukas                262
Durand               267 
Dvorak               158 166 
Dvorsky              194 
Dyer, Cpt. George    224 

Ehrbar               170 
Einstein, Albert     252 
Elman, Mischa        190 195 197 200 
Emmett, Daniel       129 
Enesco, Georges      190 263 264 
Esterhazy            37 39

Ferber, Edna         216 
Flonzaley Quartet    221 
Foster, Stephen      150 
Francoeur            193 
Fricken, Ernestine von   87 

Garden, Mary          230
Gatti-Casazza         248 
Gershwin, George      237 
Gilbert, William      177 
Gilmore, Pat          148 
Glinka                135
Gluck                 17
Godowsky, Leopold     200 
Goethe                63 
Goldberg              30 
Gordon, Jacques       190 
Gostling              3
Gottschalk            128 
Grainger, Percy       178 
Grieg                 174 178 
Gru"newald, Matthias  254 
Guardasini            45
Guardia, Fiorello La  218 
Guirard, Ernest       164 

Hammerstein           216 
Handel                7 32 33 
Haslinger             116 
Hayden                35 37 39 41
Heifetz               195 200 254 
Hindemith             254 
Hofmann, Josef        194 229
Howe, Julia Ward      149
Hubert                145 

Ives                  270 

Jeritza, Maria        240 

Kanin, Garson         273 
Kern, Jerome          215 
Kreisler, Fritz       190 196 

Lanner, Joseph        191 
Leoncavallo           176 
Leopold, Prince       10
Leschetitzky          188 
Liebling, (Leonard?)  252 
Lisle, Rouget de      75
Liszt                 89 104 
Lomax, John           205 
Lully                 21

Maelzel               62 
Martini, Padre        193 
Mason, Dr. Lowell     119
Mason, William        128 
Massenet              262
Mehul                 78 
Melchior, Lauritz     240 
Mendelssohn           95 98 101 
Merelli               122
Meyerbeer             83 104 184 
Miaskovsky            235 
Monteux, Pierre       208 
Moszkowski            223 231 
Moussorgsky           137 139 
Mozart                43 45 49 50 187 252 
Muck, Karl            239 

Newman, Ernest        186 
Nicolaev              257 
Nijinsky              208 
Nottebohm             166 
Nourrit, Adolphe      104 
Noyes Alfred,         219 

Oeberg                232 
Offenbach             164 

Pachmann, De          231 
Paderewski            67 187 201 
Paganini              155 
Paisiello             79 
Pergolesi             24
Philip, Isidor        262
Piccini               18
Ponte, Da             45
Porpora               193 
Prokofieff            235 
Prokosch              153
Pugnani               193
Purcell, Henry        5

Rachmaninoff          186 235 
Rameau                21
Ravel                 242 
Reiner, Fritz         256 
Rimsky-Korsakoff      137 181 
Rivera, Diego         214 
Robeson, Paul         215 
Rome, Harold          213 
Roosevelt, F.D.       206 
Rossini               78 81 83 
Rubinstein, Anton     229
Rubinstein, Artur     210 
Rubinstein, Nikolai   145 
Ruzicka, Dr.          74

Saint-Saens           160 162 262 
Scarlatti, Domenico   14 109 
Schelling, Ernest     220
Schestakoff, Mme.     135 
Schikaneder           50
Schluessel, Sanford   197 
Schmehl (drummer)     243 
Schnabel, Artur       252 
Schoenberg            217 261 
Schubert              73 108 
Schumann, Clara       85 89 
Schumann, Robert      85 89 
Scriabin              235
Servais, Francois     109 
Shostakovitch         138 257 266 
Slezak, Leo           184 
Smetana               152 
Solera                123
Stamitz               193 
Stokowski             232 
Stradella, Allesandro 1
Strauss, Johann       113 115 166 
Strauss, Richard      204 256 
Stravinsky            207 232 235 
Sullivan, Arthur      177

Tartini               23
Tchaikowsky           140 145 
Toscanini             218 242 246 248 250 

Verdi                 121 126 
Villa-Lobos           210 
Vivaldi               193 194 

Wagner                143 160 166 239 240 
Weber                 103 107
Whiteman, Paul        237
Widor, Charles Marie  262
Wilder, Alec          260 
Wolf, Hugo            172
Woollcott, Alexander  215 

Zager                 172 
Zelter                98